Although the recent leadership changes by the Federal Government (FG) affected 23 of its agencies, the removal of the Director-General (DG) of the National Pension Commission (PenCom), Mrs. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, and PENCOM commissioners has raised a lot of dust.
Unlike in most organisations where staff go on wild jubilation to celebrate the removal of their Chief Executives, the removal of the DG and her team has cast gloom and elicited a spell of anger among the staff of PENCOM, the labour, pensioners, and other industry stakeholders who have described the action as waste of 16 years of pension reform, politicization of pension administration, and a breach of Sections 19, 20, and 21 of the Pension Reform Act 2014.
Prior to the pension reform, the Nigeria pension industry was stinking with roguery, mindless looting, incompetence, and unparalleled hardship by senior citizens who gave their prime to the nation. Not only was the Defined Benefits Scheme (DBS), which promised to pay gratuity and lifelong pension to retirees unrealistic and not working, available funds were stolen through brazen embezzlement and ghost pensioners, while the real pensioners died of heartbreak, preventable/curable diseases, and hardship.
The Pension Reform
It was, however, during the privatisation of pubic enterprises under former President Olusegun Obasanjo that the stack realities and burdens of the nation’s moribund pension system dawned on the FG. Every enterprise the government wanted to sell had huge pension deficits. All the investors wanted the pension deficit removed from their liabilities or have the companies for chickenfeed. It was at that point that the then DG of the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, and Chief Obasanjo, took the initiative that gave birth to the pension reform.
Obasanjo empaneled the Pension Reform Committee led by Fola Adeola, with Mrs. Anohu-Amazu as a member. The Committee received ideas from various stakeholders, which it combined with global best practices and came up with a Bill that resulted in the Pension Reform Act (PRA) 2004. She received a presidential Letter of Commendation for her service on that Committee.
The efficacy of the PRA 2004 showed in the lifting the nation’s pension liability from over N2 trillion deficit inherited at the takeoff of the reform, to over N6.5 trillion of assets it boasts of today.
The former President painted a more vivid picture of Mrs. Anohu-Amazu’s role in pension reform during the World Summit gala event at the Presidential Villa in 2014. He said: “The first lesson I have to draw (from pension reform) is that within and outside Nigeria, there are Nigerians of world class that we can (hire) do world-class work for Nigerians. All the members of the (Fola Adeola) Committee were Nigerians. And the work they produced is of world class. And the way it has been managed is of world-class management”. The present DG is one of those that we had to go out to headhunt for. What a man can do, a woman can do better”.
Following the enactment of the Pension Reform Act 2004, Chinelo Anohu-Amazu was drafted to PENCOM to play key roles in translating the letters and spirit of the Act into action. She served as the Commission Secretary and Legal Adviser.
She was later appointed the Acting DG of PENCOM in 2012. Among her major achievements was the innovative leadership and strict regulations and enforcements, which saw to the growth of the pension assets from N2.9 trillion as at her appointment as the Acting DG in 2012 to over N6.5 trillion in 2017.
It is worth stating that the alleged looting in the pension industry, such as the N273 billion looting for which Abdulrasheed Maina, John Yusuf, Atiku Kigo, etc. were in the news were restricted to the old pension scheme or Defined Benefit Scheme (DBS). But these could have been curtailed if Section 20 (2)(a) of the Pension Reform Act 2004 (as it was then), which provided for the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD)had been activated to checkmate the activities of the various Pension Departments.
But who would dare the cabals and their source of slush fund but Anohu-Amazu. One of the major steps she took as Acting DG was to get President Goodluck Jonathan to activate that important provision and appoint an Executive Secretary for PTAD in 2013.
Another key achievement was the successful amendment of the Pension Reform Act in 2014. The PRA 2014, properly establishes PTAD and makes it law to directly transmit the benefits of pensioners under the old scheme to their accounts without the involvement of a third party (the Pension Departments). The Federal Universities Pensioners Association (FUPA) hailed this section of the law as a form of financial autonomy for pensioners. The body said it “freed suffering pensioners from the heavy yokes of untimely death and massive hardship brought Pension Departments as it is the shortest possible journey between us and our money”.
Other major breakthroughs in PRA 2014 include the creation of new offences regime and provisions for stiffer penalties against infractions on pension law or mismanagement or diversion of pension funds and assets under any guise. PRA 2014 even criminalises attempt to commit an offence and imposes the same penalty as committing the offence.
Also penalties for misappropriation of pension funds have been increased such that operators who mismanage pension funds will be liable to a term of 10 years imprisonment upon conviction and also pay a fine equal three times the amount misappropriated. That is to say that anyone who misappropriates or steals N100 million will pay N300 million plus at least 10 years imprisonment. The convict will also forfeit any property, asset or fund with accrued interest or the proceeds of any unlawful activity under this Act in his/her possession, custody or control to the FG.
INNOVATIVE AND COURAGEOUS LEADERSHIP
Mrs. Anohu-Amazu met the pension assets at N2.9 trillion in 2012 as Acting DG, but through strict regulation with her team, left it at over N6.5 million in 2017. She has also waged wars against any form of fraudulent practice in the industry. She refused to capitulate to cheap blackmail. Equally, PenCom under her watch has shored up the Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) subscriptions from 5.39 million to 6.89 million within a period of three years.
Her leadership successfully completed the establishment of PENCOM offices in the six geopolitical zones to save Nigerians the stress of travelling all the way to Abuja when they have issues or needed to make enquiries on the pension industry.
This high-flying performance, coupled with her global reach, has helped open up the Nigerian pension industry to the world. In 2014, Nigeria became the first and only African country to host the World Pension Summit (Africa Special) on the continent. The event, which brings together over 400 professional, investors, and industry stakeholders from five continents, has been additionally hosted by Nigeria in 2015 and 2016 with tremendous impact on the nation’s pension industry.
She was specially invited in 2016 to speak at the World Bank’s 7th Global Pension and Savings Summit in Washington DC to share the story of Nigeria’s pension turnaround, which the World Bank termed “Nigeria: The Pension Big Bang.”
Anohu-Amazu was one of the few high-level experts from Africa appointed as pioneer members of the prestigious London Stock Exchange’s Africa Advisory Group.
She took the President’s drive for foreign investment a notch higher. For instance, at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom where she delivered the inaugural lecture of the Scottish Business in Africa Forum (SBIF) entitled, “Pension Funds: Opportunities for Infrastructure Support in the Development of African Economies”.
Because most Nigerians are in the informal sector and are not captured by the CPS, she initiated and completed all the plans to roll out the Micro Pension Scheme before her removal. This will enable artisans, Akara seller, drivers, okada riders, etc. to save for their retirement.
She has not only given PENCOM headquarters a deserving facelift, but has boosted staff morale through capacity building and welfare. She also showed the true woman in her by converting a hitherto redundant building at the headqurters to a world class Creche where nursing mothers keep their babies, breastfeed and attend to them to cut down on Nigeria’s child mortality rate as well as promote work efficiency.
Nigeria has consistently come tops in the Africa Pension Awards under her leadership both for regulators and operators categories.
For her efforts, she was confered with the Sun Newspaper Public Service Award 2015. Presenting the Award, on behalf of Sun, the All Progressives Congress (APC) Senator Bola Tinubu, said: “Through your commitment to public service, professionalism and attitude to sacrifice for our today and tomorrow in this country, the Sun has rewarded, recognized your commitment and the nation has done the same. I am proud of you and wish you more grease to your elbows”.
Importantly, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), major contributors to the pension fund, conferred the “Excellent, Visionary, and Emphatic Leader Award” on her at its 2016 Triennial Conference for her ability to grow and protect their pension assets.
A public analyst, therefore, summed the outrage over her untimely removal despite giant strides thus: “All things bright and beautiful, Nigeria kills them all”.
However, FG’s ill-advised action and its implications for the industry notwithstanding, the amazon has moved on. And she would be remembered as an amazon, who came, who saw, and conquered.
***Mailafia, an Economist, wrote from Abuja